Wednesday, April 18, 2007

[THO] Our Debt to Humanism

I posted the following over on MySpace, mainly because of an ongoing conversation I have with some friends there. I often get called a humanist and a liberal over there which bugs me when it is done in a derogatory way. But actually I'm convinced we wouldn't have had a Reformation without Humanism. So here is a little piece to that effect. Love to hear your comments.


This semester I took a wonderful course in Early Modern Church History, which is the period of Reformations in the Church. Some of it is very frustrating, especially how railroaded Luther gets (from all sides) and how short sighted a lot of the Reformers were (I have even less respect for Calvin after this course). But what is probably the most suprising insight is the debt those of us who come from Protestant traditions have to Humanism. I know this is a derogative name for some, but in reality there would never have been a Protestant Reformation if it hadn't been for Humanism.

Luther was a Nominalist, a school of thought that emerges from Humanism in response to Aristotelian Scholasticism. His Augustinian roots really forshadow this as the Augustinians tended towards Nominalism and the Dominicans were stuck on Aristotle via Aquinas. I'm not so comfortable picking sides, but I do live in a much different age. We have the advantage of hindsight with regards to some of the more regretable aspects of the reformations - especially the constant schisming that still occurs.

Also Zwingli was influenced by Erasmus. Erasmus, the father of Humanism, was the driving force behind vernacular Bible translations from the Greek, as opposed to the troublesome Vulgate. This led to insights like repentence being about metenoia not pennance, Luther made great use of this too. If you enjoy having a Bible in your own language then you need to tip your hat to Erasmus.

Calvin was also a Humanist, much as I am not a fan of Calvin, we do come by our solid pastoral formation practices from him. Even Trent follows Calvin's lead in this regard.

So next time you want to dismiss the Humanists, remember they are an integral part of our history. They made us think in new ways about the role of religion in the world. Sometimes we might not like where that landed us, but we would not have many of the things we take for granted if it were not for the Humanists in history.

1 comment:

nakedpastor said...

Right! It's about the rights, liberty and dignity of the human being. That's humanism. It's inhumane to do otherwise. And it leads to humanitarianism. So be a humanist, if at all humanly possible!